HomepageISTEEdSurge
Skip to content
ascd logo

Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
Join ASCD
May 1, 2024
Vol. 81
No. 8

Stop Making Teachers Submit Lesson Plans!

author avatar
This archaic practice wastes time, erodes trust, and detracts from what really matters.

premium resources logo

Premium Resource

LeadershipCurriculum
Large pile of papers stacked in front of teacher who appears frustrated and overwhelmed
Credit: Igor Vershinsky / istock
I'll never forget my first few weeks as a teacher. I had a paper planner, complete with each day of the week and the different subjects I’d teach. I was so excited that I planned the entire first two weeks ahead of time, writing every detail in my finest cursive.
An hour into my first day, I realized I was going to have to change everything. What I had planned was not only unrealistic—it failed to account for the unpredictability of teaching. From unexpected interruptions to the ­serendipity of students’ questions and comments, it was nearly impossible to stick to my initial lesson plans.
Anyone who has ever spent even one day teaching in a classroom knows what I mean: plans change. They have to. Teaching is uncertain, especially when 20 or more human beings are along for this ride we call learning, steering the ship with their questions, emotions, and thoughts. Flexible and responsive teaching is best for kids. To reach all learners, teachers must modify plans mid-lesson, and in many cases, modify instructional plans as they unfold over a week or a unit. For these reasons, it’s imperative that teachers have the agency to modify their lesson plans to meet student needs and keep them engaged.
Even though we know things rarely go as planned in our classrooms, administrators and school boards continue to request that teachers submit lesson plans in advance—in some extreme cases, an entire year in advance. Don’t get me wrong: it’s reasonable for administrators and families to push for pedagogical transparency. After all, they have a stake in this, too, and they want to know what kids are learning, how they are progressing, and how to support learners. But requiring teachers to submit lesson plans isn’t the right move.
After all, by the time they are submitted and reviewed, it’s likely the plans have already changed. What’s more, most administrators don’t actually have time to read the plans, especially given how cumbersome many templates tend to be. But most important, requiring teachers to submit plans turns lesson planning into a compliance task, both limiting teacher agency and disconnecting us from the authentic purpose behind lesson planning: to make sure we’re reaching all learners.

Forcing them to submit lesson plans that most administrators won’t even open sends a clear message: We don’t trust you.

Author Image

Here’s a rundown of specific reasons why asking teachers to submit lesson plans is generally an ill-advised move, along with some alternative suggestions to create space for both pedagogical transparency and teacher agency.

1. Administrators Don’t Have Time to Read Lesson Plans

Based on my experience, it seems unlikely that administrators have time to look through hundreds of lesson plans each week. In fact, many teachers have told me that they either submit plans that lack meaning or recycle plans from years past. To be clear, it’s not that these teachers don’t care about their lesson planning; it’s that they prioritize other responsibilities that are more likely to lead to fruitful student learning, like assessing work; preparing for small-group instruction; or speaking with parents, counselors, or other teachers who support students in their classes. Forcing teachers into compliance tasks that administrators cannot sustainably monitor directly impacts students: teachers spend more time on compliance tasks than they do on tasks that will better differentiate their classrooms to meet the needs of all learners.
It begs the question, if the lesson plans teachers are submitting aren’t helping them support students, and if administrators don’t have time to review all these lesson plans, is ­submitting lesson plans really a means to pedagogical transparency? Or is it just creating meaningless work for teachers in the name of superficial accountability?
Instead of asking teachers to submit daily lesson plans, administrators could create a school website that houses unit plans. This approach would encourage schools to plan using backward design, a strategy that starts with the desired outcomes and works backward to plan instruction. This approach ensures that teaching is purposeful and aligned with learning goals.
Schools should provide training in backward design, as it benefits all teachers. By creating a common space for housing unit plans, everyone gains insight into curriculum implementation schoolwide. Other grade-level or subject-area teachers can see what their colleagues are teaching, creating opportunities for fruitful conversations about curricula and bolstering teacher agency in the long run.
When teachers can be inspired by their colleagues, they hone their decision-making, leveraging the insights their peers bring into the classroom to continuously grow their own practice. This system would also provide administrators the pedagogical transparency they’re looking for, so they can speak to the ­curriculum when talking with ­families.

2. Traditional Lesson Planning Can Be Cumbersome and Unsustainable

I don’t know many teachers who have the capacity to write five or more quality lesson plans every day. In fact, those of us who have been teaching for a while often have simple instructional frameworks we use to plan and implement instruction sustainably. Some pull from foundational resources provided by the school district (most of which already include lesson plans) and only write lesson plans when trying something new or complicated.
When I’m planning for instruction, I use my five-question lesson plan:
  1. What do I hope students will leave knowing or being able to do?
  2. How will I know if students ­understand or have learned how to do this?
  3. What instructional resource will I use to provoke curiosity and ­discussion?
  4. How will I facilitate instruction?
  5. How will learners reflect on the lesson?
While this can be translated into a template, it can also be done mentally if teachers are in a pinch and need a last-minute lesson. I’d recommend embedding the questions into a unit plan, with each day in the learning sequence answering these five questions briefly, assuming plans are written out. This method is also more user-friendly for teachers from other grade levels or for administrators who are curious about what others are teaching. When administrators build opportunities for teachers to collaborate across teams in staff meetings or PLCs, this method can create generative conversations about instruction, inspiring teachers with new ideas that will both grow their practice and their agency to make innovative decisions.

When kids have teachers who feel heard and valued, those teachers will be more likely to exercise their agency to reach as many kids as possible.

Author Image

3. It Makes Teachers Feel Controlled and Micromanaged

While some might say ensuring quality instruction is more important than catering to teachers’ feelings about their work, I disagree. Teachers’ attitudes about their jobs will impact their ability to deliver quality instruction to kids. If we constantly chip away at their agency, they will be less incentivized to be decision-makers in the classroom. This will have a direct impact on kids, as teachers will be less inclined to modify plans and make flexible and responsive decisions that support students. What’s more, teachers deserve dignity and respect; they deserve to be treated as professionals. Forcing them to submit lesson plans that most administrators won’t even open sends a clear message: We don’t trust you.
Instead, when possible, administrators should join planning meetings and engage in the process of backward design with their teachers. Not only will this provide insight into curriculum development, current teaching strategies, and assessment practices, but it will also help ­administrators walk in teachers’ shoes, witnessing how many factors they consider when planning, and how much previous plans have already been adjusted based on results of instruction.
Most of all, this approach will build trust and camaraderie among teachers, coaches, and administrators. After all, if we are truly “all in this together,” then administrators and coaches should be sharing in the energy demands of planning and preparing for instruction. This builds teacher agency in the long run. By participating in planning meetings, coaches and administrators can find teachable moments to hone teacher noticing and decision-making. This adds a layer of criticality and accountability to lesson planning by including more thought partners, without making teachers feel micromanaged or untrusted.
This goes for new teachers, too. Having new teachers submit lesson plans does not actually teach them how to effectively plan lessons. If you want to teach new teachers how to plan, pair them with a coach, participate in their planning meetings, and then use the effectiveness of their instruction as a litmus test for how well their planning is going. It’s important that coaches and administrators still center the teachers’ voices in their planning to maximize agency. However, in order to keep teachers thinking critically, coaches and administrators can ask simple, open-ended questions, such as “Why are you choosing to sequence the lessons in this way?” or “Have you considered . . . ?” These prompt teachers to think more critically and develop their ­decision-making without taking away their ability to make choices for their classrooms.

Cultivating the Conditions for Teacher Agency

Quality instruction matters, and it’s true there is a relationship between the quality of planning practices and the quality of instruction. That said, the costs of having teachers submit lesson plans to the principal outweigh the benefits. We want teachers to have agency so they feel trusted, valued, and dignified, in part because it’s just the right thing to do, but also because it’s best for kids. After all, when kids have teachers who feel heard and valued, those teachers will be more likely to exercise their agency to reach as many kids as possible in creative and ­innovative ways.
As administrators plan for the fall, they should consider one of these alternatives for increasing pedagogical transparency. Hopefully, this will create the best of both worlds: teachers won’t feel micromanaged, and leaders will have more awareness about what teachers are teaching.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on the ASCD Blog.

Make Teaching Sustainable

Paul Emerich France shares six mindset shifts to help educators sustain their energy and effectiveness while empowering their students.

Make Teaching Sustainable
Learn More

ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

Let us help you put your vision into action.
Related Articles
View all
undefined
Leadership
A Blueprint for Teacher Retention
Trey Duke & Cathy Pressnell
4 weeks ago

undefined
Increasing the Psychic Rewards of Teaching
Kass Minor
4 weeks ago

undefined
Supporting English Language Teaching Specialists
Xatli Stox
4 weeks ago

undefined
The Problem of Nominal Change
Jim Knight
2 months ago

undefined
Leading with Empathy
Brittany Hogan
3 months ago
Related Articles
A Blueprint for Teacher Retention
Trey Duke & Cathy Pressnell
4 weeks ago

Increasing the Psychic Rewards of Teaching
Kass Minor
4 weeks ago

Supporting English Language Teaching Specialists
Xatli Stox
4 weeks ago

The Problem of Nominal Change
Jim Knight
2 months ago

Leading with Empathy
Brittany Hogan
3 months ago
From our issue
Colorful, collage-style magazine cover with a man and speech bubble that says "The Power of Teacher Agency"
The Power of Teacher Agency
Go To Publication